Former Yonkers Mayor Challenges Velella
By MATTHEW COREY
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had the whole room in suspense when he said there were just two people he could count on to bring home what New York City needs. Coincidentally, the two turned out to be the guests of honor: U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, the three-termer from Nassau County, and local State Sen. Guy J. Velella.
The praise got laid on as thick as the red sauce at last Friday's sumptuous $150-a-head Republican fundraising dinner at Maestro's in the East Bronx. While the focus of the evening was on D'Amato's battle with Rep. Charles Schumer, local Republicans flocked to shake the hand of Velella, who has fashioned 11 straight terms in the state legislature from an area that registers two-to-one Democratic.
Velella, the Republican veteran and county party
leader who has represented parts of the Northwest Bronx
since 1986, is being challenged in the Nov. 3 general
election by Yonkers Democrat Henry Spallone, who had a
brief and controversial tenure as the mayor of the
Westchester city in the early '90s.
A discouraging sign for Spallone is that some local Democrats openly voice their support for the Republican senator.
"We've got to give the senator credit," said Democratic District Leader Terry Bastone. "I think that Mr. Velella has been very good for North Riverdale. He delivers for his constituency. If he ever steps down, then my candidate is John Calvelli."
Calvelli, administrative aide to Congressman Eliot L. Engel, has begged off running this year. In the common belief that Velella was going to get a judgeship this year and retire from the Senate, Calvelli was preparing for a run, and even sent out literature touting his ability to wrest the 34th away from the Republicans if Velella did not seek reelection.
But he did seek reelection, and Calvelli, true to his cautious plan, did not run against him. Democratic officials around the 34th S.D. seem loath to embrace Spallone.
"I don't know that that's going to be our focus," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz of Spallone's bid, mentioning the candidate's controversial role in a famous federal housing desegregation lawsuit.
Yonkers Veteran Takes Aim At Velella
The city's stubbornness was a matter of principle for Spallone.
"There's no question that I didn't think school busing was the right thing to do," Spallone said. "I oppose any kind of blockbusting. I support solutions that work."
Although a political product of Yonkers, Spallone has roots in the Bronx portion of the 34th District. He was a community affairs officer in the 52nd Precinct and director of security at Amalgamated Houses.
In an interview, Spallone echoed Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's emphasis on "quality of life" and credited Giuliani for "cleaning up the subways."
To combat drug use and crime among young people, Spallone said uniformed agencies could absorb idle young people.
"What do we do to improve longterm job opportunities?" Spallone said. "That translates into services: quality of life, more policemen, more sanitation, more firemen."
Spallone said the threat to public safety is the biggest problem for the Bronx, especially in parks.
"You have parks that are getting destroyed," Spallone said, "with bands of young people coming in doing the robbings, the muggings, etc. etc."
In Spallone's view, the last 10 years have seen the 34th District deteriorate, mostly because of drugs, a situation he lays at Velella's doorstep.
"He's never really had opposition," Spallone said. "They've always had coalitions to keep him in power," Spallone said. "That's not good politics. That's a controlled situation that allows very little freedom for people to serve the public."
The veiled suggestion is that Velella's history of reelection in his overwhelmingly Democratic district comes from a deal with the county Democrats. Political insiders repeat the following rumor: if Velella, the county Republican chair, doesn't field candidates for elected judgeships, the Democrats won't oppose Velella, the State Senator, in general elections.
It's a charge the Senator forcefully denies.
"You give me any Republican lawyer who's admitted 10 years and I'll support him," Velella said. (An admitted attorney has passed the bar and is practicing.) "I can't come up with the candidates because it's hard to run in the Bronx as a Republican. You find me a Republican who wants to run and has some kind of intelligent program, I'll run him," he said.
Nonetheless, Velella doesn't shrink from the label of dealmaker pinned on him by critics.
"I confess! I don't think it's bad that I made a deal to get the baby AIDS bill passed, or a deal that made the Holocaust legislation into law," Velella said, referring to laws he authored requiring the state Health Department to give parents the results of HIV tests run on every newborn and mandating Holocaust-era policy information from foreign insurers doing business in New York State.
"I'm elected as a legislator not a dictator," Velella said. "I go to Albany, we argue over things, then we come to a consensus and decide what we're going to do.
"Being part of a legislative process is making deals. It's called compromise."
Firing back at Spallone, Velella said his opponent's stubbornness in the desegregation suit hurt Yonkers.
"If Hank Spallone had done that when he was a Yonkers City Councilman, maybe he would have gotten more accomplished," he said.
"[Spallone] publicly stated he would not attend certain meetings on certain issues. Because of that the City of Yonkers was forced to pay out millions and millions of dollars and because of that most of the [public] housing ended up in his district," Velella said.
"Mr. Velella has no idea what he's talking about," Spallone shot back. While Spallone admits to opposing desegregation efforts, "I'm the only person involved who was exonerated of any violations of law [by the courts]. I do everything very legally."
More than any issue, Velella touts his crusade against Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) excesses. As chair of the Senate Insurance Committee, Velella introduced bills, that later passed, requiring HMOs to cover 48-hour maternity stays and prohibit drive-through mastectomies.
Velella also pointed proudly to a new law ordering health officials to notify the sex partners of HIV-positive people. "It will save lives," he said.
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